Rutgers fires basketball coach amid PR firestorm

Mike Rice got the boot less than 24 hours after an ESPN story showed video of the coach shoving and tossing balls at his players, and calling them gay slurs. UPDATE: He apologized to ABC News.

This story has been updated to reflect statements from Mike Rice.

That was quick.

Rutgers University fired its men’s basketball coach Mike Rice less than 24 hours after ESPN aired a report showing him grabbing players, throwing balls at them, and calling them homophobic slurs.

The report, which aired Tuesday night, sparked social media outrage and even drew a response from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was “obviously disturbed.” Rutgers is the state university of New Jersey. Its men’s basketball team finished the 2012-13 season with 15 wins and 16 losses.

As ESPN reports:

“With mounting criticism on a state and national level, the school decided to take action, relieving Rice of his duties after three largely unsuccessful seasons at the Big East school. There will be a national search to replace him.”

The school’s PR crisis has only just begun. At least one lawsuit is pending from a former team employee (Eric Murdock, an ex-NBA player).

Rice apologized to ABC News, which caught him outside his house on Wednesday.

“I’ve let so many people down,” he said. “My players. My administration. Rutgers University. The fans. My family, who is sitting in their house huddled around because of the fact that their father was an embarrassment to them. And it’s troubling.
But at some time, maybe I will try to explain it. But right now there is no explaining it for what’s on those films. I was wrong.”

The team will also have to answer questions as to why athletic director Tim Pernetti suspended Rice in December after seeing the video instead of firing him.

Pernetti had this to say to ESPN about the matter:

“I am responsible for the decision to attempt a rehabilitation of Coach Rice. Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate, but I was wrong. Moving forward, I will work to regain the trust of the Rutgers community.”

Media Trainer Brad Phillips gave Pernetti credit for “falling on his own sword.” Phillips, a frequent PR Daily contributor, likened the statement to a Trumanesque “The buck stops here” type of statement.

“By taking responsibility, he may help to take the issue of his own integrity off the table,” Phillips told PR Daily. “But the remaining issue—whether he made a bad decision and exercised bad judgment—may well be the one that decides his own fate.”

In a blog post published Wednesday morning, Phillips listed the 10 questions Rutgers officials need to answer right now.

The video that ESPN acquired came from Eric Murdock, a former assistant whose contract was not renewed last year, according to The Washington Post.

Here’s the story about Rice, which appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”:

(Image via)


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